Woteki promotes USDA programs that boost rural economic development
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 06/04/2012 2:21 PM
MASON CITY, Iowa —Catherine Woteki, USDA's chief scientist and under secretary for research, education and economics, visited north Iowa last week to promote research, innovation, education and economic development.
Woteki, who was agriculture dean at Iowa State University from 2002 to 2005, led a rural business discussion at North Iowa Area Community College's John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center.
She said that USDA, through its rural development mission, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Association of Community Colleges.
"That memo of understanding pledges to work together and find ways we can help community colleges in fulfilling their roles in the community," Woteki said.
She also pushed USDA's $15 million grants program to support business accelerators that can be incubators for new firms, start-ups or small businesses looking to expand.
"There is one such accelerator here at NIACC, and I'm looking forward to learning more about that while I'm here on campus," Woteki said.
USDA has traditionally worked with community colleges to help develop new curriculum, Woteki said.
"Last year the National Institute for Food and Agriculture...provided $17 million in grant support to faculty at community colleges to develop new curriculum," Woteki said. "Community colleges are the place where so much training takes place specifically geared toward the needs of businesses in the community to provide a technically trained workforce. The curriculum is an important part of the overall 'many pieces in the puzzle' to accelerate business development."
Research is the other part of the puzzle, Woteki said. It's where the ideas come from that entrepreneurs pick up and develop into new businesses.
USDA has accelerated technology transfer from its Agricultural Research Service labs. Several labs exist in Iowa. Through ARS, USDA has established a partnership with 10 development organizations around the country called the Agriculture Technology Innovation Program or ATIP. ARS scientists develop ideas. When they get to the stage where they can be handed off to private companies for development, ATIP facilitates making the matches and also works with state economic development authorities and venture capitalists to find seed money to allow entrepreneurs to take ideas and develop them into businesses.
"ATIP does that match making to find the right partners to move forward," Woteki. "USDA is using all these pieces to jump-start business development with an emphasis on rural areas."